A deathblow for the legitimacy of the CAP

Last week, a large majority of the European Parliament voted in favour of the Commission’s proposal to drastically weaken or delete the majority of the environmental conditionality of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Not only does the reform directly oppose expert recommendations and societal demands, but it was also pushed through using an unfounded ‘urgency procedure’, without any impact assessment, real stakeholder consultation, or debate in the Parliament. The proposal was supported by 425 MEPs, while 130 rejected and 33 abstained. 

These actions paint a grim image of EU decision-making. The disregard of many policy-makers for science, the public interest, democratic processes and their own promised Green Deal objectives, is beyond belief. Further undermining already too-weak environmental requirements is not an option.The scope of  environmental pollution, the biodiversity collapse and the climate crisis will only increase. Many policymakers are wasting time neither society nor farmers can afford (1).

‘Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions’ (GAECs), are currently a requirement to receive agricultural subsidies. Last week Tuesday, the Parliament gave the green light to the Commission’s proposal to weaken GAEC 1, which involves the requirement to protect permanent grasslands (2). 

On Wednesday, the Parliament approved the weakening of or making voluntary most of the other GAECs (GAEC 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), such as erosion prevention, ensuring minimal soil cover, crop rotation and space for biodiversity. All these measures are essential to increase the resilience of cropping systems, improve soil health, foster pollinators and natural enemies and decrease pesticide dependency. They are in need of strengthening, not weakening. 

According to the latest publically available numbers from the Commission in 2019, there were more than 9 million hectares of pesticide-free Ecological Focus Area in the EU, in the form of so-called “productive EFA” - cover crops and leguminous crops. Removing the requirement to provide pesticide-free space for biodiversity (GAEC 8) from the conditionality, will lead to the loss of this pesticide-free agricultural area. Moreover, all farms smaller than 10 hectares, two-thirds of EU farms, will be exempt from any controls regarding conditionality rules. This while controls and sanctioning regarding conditionality rules have already been extremely weak. 

The Commission’s proposals are part of many proposals suggested in a non-paper of the Commission on 22 February, which was not made available to the public (3). Many farmers, including farming unions, have expressed that they didn’t ask for weakening environmental rules (4). 

The reform of the CAP has been pushed through claiming an ‘urgency’ procedure, while there is no proven urgency. Policy-makers make these decisions, which are of wide societal importance and involve one-third of the EU budget, taxpayer’s money, without impact assessment or real stakeholder consultation. This while expert analyses have urged repeatedly that the environmental conditionality of the CAP needs extensive strengthening. Agriculture is both a major driver of the different environmental crises, as heavily impacted by them. Agricultural subsidies need to be urgently linked to environmental objectives. Currently, most subsidies don’t contribute to these goals, but rather exacerbate environmental crises and associated impacts on society and farmers (5). 

Deleting, already far too weak, rules to receive agricultural subsidies is a final deathblow for the legitimacy and social acceptability of the CAP. How can policymakers justify that the large amounts of taxpayers’ money spent on agriculture are fuelling practices harming our ecosystems and their services, rather than supporting those farmers applying practices which protect them? And that, on top of that, 80% of subsidies end up with 20% of the farmers, the largest holdings? Agricultural subsidies need to be, evidently, linked to public goods, which go well beyond a strong basic conditionality.

Tractors blocking streets and spraying manure, in combination with election fever, have apparently inspired many policymakers to reckless actions, which harm both citizens and farmers. On the contrary, the millions of people asking for more sustainable agriculture through multiple European Citizens Initiatives and consultations, have been completely ignored. The coming elections will be essential, to ensure that policy-makers who prioritise evidence-based decision-making and citizens’, including farmers’, interests, rather than the interests of the agro-chemical industry, can truly lead the way to reach the Green Deal objectives.



(1) Letter to MEPs: The attack of the Commission on the environmental conditionality of the CAP is undemocratic, outrageous, and threatens the legitimacy of the CAP.

(2) Amendment of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2022/126 with adjustments for GAEC standard 1, Parliament pushes through changes to rules on grassland despite left-wing opposition.

(3) Commission non-paper, Agriculture and Fisheries Council, 26 February 2024, Green CAP on the Chopping Block – Commission to Cut CAP’s Environmental Ambitions with no Impact Assessment

(4) Open letter: CAP Simplification Rules – we were consulted but not heard

(5) ECA, 2021: Common agricultural policy and climate: half of EU climate spending but farm emissions are not decreasing: “We found that the €100 billion of CAP funds attributed to climate action had little impact on such emissions, which have not changed significantly since 2010. The CAP mostly finances measures with a low potential to mitigate climate change. The CAP does not seek to limit or reduce livestock (50 % of agriculture emissions) and supports farmers who cultivate drained peatlands (20 % of emissions);”

(6) Joint letter to the EU Commission against the loosening of the CAP’s environmental conditionality (2024)

  • IPSOS Citizens Poll on Pesticides (2023) 
  • Through the ECI ‘Save Bees and Farmers’, citizens asked again for ambitious pesticide reductions to protect health, environment, biodiversity, long-term food security and long-term perspective for farmers. Of the 10 successful ECI’s that have been submitted to the European Commission, 2 focused on pesticides.
  • The final report of the Conference for the Future of Europe included the need for high environmental ambition in food production systems, and to drastically reduce pesticide use (2022)
  • The Eurobarometer survey on Food safety in the EU listed pesticide residues in food as the most frequently selected concern related to food safety (2022)
  • EU public consultation on the Common Agricultural Policy: respondents showed a concern for environmental challenges, such as the prevention of biodiversity loss and prevention and reduction of water pollution (pesticides, fertilisers) (2017) 
  • More than 1 million citizens asked the European Commission and the Member States for a ban on glyphosate and ambitious pesticide reductions, through a successful ECI, for a ban on glyphosate (2017)

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Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.